20 November 2013

Fred Sanger, 1918-2013

A remarkable man

Fred Sanger, 1918-2013

Fred Sanger, 1918-2013


Fred Sanger, who died on Tuesday 19 November 2013, aged 95, was the quiet giant of genomics, the father of an area of science that we will explore for decades to come.

His achievements rank alongside those of Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins in discovering the structure of DNA. We are proud that he graciously agreed to allow our Institute to be named after him.

In research marked by two Nobel Prizes, he developed methods that allow us to determine the order of the building blocks of DNA and of proteins. This technique allowed the languages of life to be read.

Because of Fred's work we have been able to interpret those languages and to use that knowledge for good.

"Fred was an inspiration to many, for his brilliant work, for his quiet determination and for his modesty. He refused most invitations for interviews, but often helped schools and students," says Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

"Fred won two Nobel Prizes. His work for his second Prize, a method to decode DNA, has transformed our understanding of life on earth and is the foundation of developments in healthcare from understanding inherited disease to developing new cancer treatment.

"It was an honour for this Institute when Fred acceded to founding Director John Sulston's request that we be named after him. Fred's only stipulation was that 'It had better be good'.

"That typically Fred response is our inspiration and will continue to be so."

" Fred's work transformed our understanding of life on earth and is the foundation of developments in healthcare from understanding inherited disease to developing new cancer treatment. "

Professor Sir Mike Stratton

Fred developed methods that allow us understand the blueprint of life. His findings spurred research that, today, brings benefits to patients around the world.

Without his method to understand the structure of proteins, we would not have efficient treatments such as insulin. Without his method to decode our genetic material, DNA, we would not have the treatments for breast cancer, melanoma and infectious disease that have been developed in recent years.

Our programmes to develop vaccines for malaria are built entirely on understanding DNA sequence, on Fred's methods and their descendants.

Or, as he would say, carefully acknowledging his co-authors, on the method of Sanger, (Steve) Nicklen and (Alan) Coulson.

Notes to Editors

You can read an appreciation of the work of Fred at:

And a story about the 30th anniversary of his technique here.

Nobel Prize autobiography (1980)

Nobel Prize biography (1958)

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.


The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.


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